christmas in florence

Feel the magical spirit of the holiday season in Florence. (Photo: Getty Images)

Culture + Style

Buon Natale in Florence: Celebrate Christmas in the Cradle of the Renaissance

Christmas markets have become all the advent rage in cities all around Europe. Florence is no different, except citizens of this handsome Tuscan city seem to do some serious, next-level celebrating when it comes to the holiday season.

Renaissance-era buildings get bedecked with festive decorations, streets are draped with lights, public squares raise Christmas trees, and market stalls get assembled so locals can browse for gifts, sip wine and eat local street food delights.

This is Christmas in Florence. And it pretty much lasts the entire month of December. It’s something everyone should experience at least once. So, what are you waiting for?

Stocked Market

Starting in late November and going until Christmas Eve, a German-inspired Christmas market arises in Piazza Santa Croce.

Looking like a little Northern-European village, the market is sprinkled with stalls stocked with arts and crafts, artisanal goods, handmade toys, gifts and Christmas-tree decorations.

There’s also plenty of food and drink, particularly of the Teutonic variety. So sip some hot spiced wine, guzzle a plus-sized beer and munch on sausages and rich sweets. It’s the holiday season, after all, and you deserve it.

For something more intimate, wander outside of the city’s historical center. Nearly every neighborhood has its own Christmas market.

Let There Be Light

christmas in florence
The Festival of Lights in Florence. (Photo: Getty Images)

The beginning of the second week of December is one of the best times to be in Florence. That’s because the Festival of Lights commences. It begins with the lighting of the huge Christmas tree planted in front of the Duomo, the city’s giant domed cathedral.

Once the tree’s aglow, various streets and squares are lit up with festive lights, video projections and light games. A few particularly festive and bright places to put on your list of stops for the Festival of Lights include Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Museo Novecento, Torre di Arnolfo of the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Central Market.

Midnight Mass

One unforgettable experience — whether you’re Catholic or not — is to take in Christmas Eve midnight mass in Florence’s dynamic Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the fourth-largest cathedral in the world.

Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to arrive around 10:30 p.m. and then spend the next few hours gazing up at Brunelleschi’s majestic early-Renaissance-era dome and Giorgio Vasari’s dramatic late-16th-century painting, “The Last Judgement.”

christmas in florence
A dusting of snow coats Florence. (Photo: Getty Images)

Holiday Feasting

As you would guess, a whole new cuisine comes out of hibernation for the holiday season in Florence. If you’re in town on Christmas Day, it will be a bit more difficult to find an open restaurant than it is at other times of the year, but there are some restaurants open, and you’d be wise to make a reservation.

Often the meals are fixed price, multi-course affairs and might start out with crostini neri, liver pate atop crispy bread, along with a selection of cured meats and local cheese.

Next up is the pasta portion of the meal, and a typical one might be cappelletti pasta in a capon broth or pasta with a hearty wild boar sauce.

Then comes the secondi, or meat dish, which often in Florence is roasted chicken seasoned with rosemary and garlic. And then, of course, comes the dolce, sweets that often take the form of various types of cakes.

Buon Natale, tutti!